That Marvel’s Spider-Man is a very good game isn’t something you need this review to tell you. That the game is most likely to pick up the gong for Game of the Year isn’t something you need this review to tell you either.
What this review will, however, do is go into the many many things – big and small – that Marvel’s Spider-Man does right and what, if anything, it gets wrong. Over the course of the many video games made around the titular webslinger, this century has largely seen Spider-Man games that are spin-offs from the live action films featuring him.
And it was after 2014’s video game based on the film The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that a review on Polygon concluded “At this point I’ve accepted that there’s probably never going to be a truly great Spider-Man game.” This brings us neatly to September this year that saw the release of Insomniac Games’ long-awaited foray into Spider-Man games. After a very encouraging set of early trailers came #Puddlegate and gamers across the world prepared to be disappointed once more.
But they needn’t have worried…
Graphics, Music and Cinematics
No sooner than you load up the game, watch the opening video and begin to make your way to Fisk Tower – as part of the tutorial mission, does the sheer scale of the game begin to gradually emerge. Spidey isn’t one of those superheroes who lives in the shadows, and it stands to reason that his game should be no different. A jaw-dropping – particularly if played with a TV capable of HDR colours – living, breathing, bustling and painstakingly-recreated open world version of Manhattan is what awaits you.
And best of all, given the large percentage of time you spend in Marvel’s Spider-Man traversing the city, you are truly able to immerse yourself in this visual masterpiece, explore every little nook and cranny, stumbleupon world-renowned landmarks and even a handful of Easter Eggs (Note: There’s a lot more references to the Marvel universe than just the Stark Tower for you to chance upon).
All of the above would be sadly incomplete if it weren’t for the audio and musical score that accompanies the graphics. Insomniac Games’ New York is brought to live by the hustle-bustle of traffic noises, the sounds of pedestrians and commuters and the general public calling out to you as you swing past. And the music sounds and feels every bit as epic as any score created for a big budget superhero romp being made in Hollywood. A special mention must also be made of the high quality of voice acting in the cutscenes that are so critical to the overall experience.
The criss-crossing of gameplay visuals and audio with cinematic cutscenes works brilliantly by itself in conjuring a marvelous gaming experience. But it’s the seamless introduction and effectiveness of QTE-infused sequences that truly distinguish Marvel’s Spider-Man as a cinematic experience. The ability to switch off the HUD while traversal often makes you forget you’re playing a game.
Story and Content
If there’s one story that’s been told almost as many times as Spidey’s origin story, it’s that of Batman from the rival DC universe. An orphan left in the care of his uncle and aunt, watches his Uncle Ben get killed in a botched carjacking, becomes vengeful and so on, and so forth.
Which is why it’s rather fortunate that Marvel’s Spider-Man eschews the need to re-tread old ground and opts not to be an origin story (about the titular character, mind you; another character does in fact get the origins treatment). Instead, your Peter Parker is in his early twenties and has been Spider-Man for some time. Similarly, Uncle Ben – who likely passed away a long time ago as well – is barely mentioned. The story is a fresh (Read: Non-movie-like) take on Spider-Man and his exploits, as well as a handful of his most memorable nemeses. For those who’ve been to the cinema recently, it’s no spoiler to point out that Venom plays absolutely no role in the game, whether as a character (playable or NPC) or in the form of an Easter Egg.
Without going into any specifics, the story sees Parker shuffling duties between being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and a lab assistant, while trying to lend a hand at Aunt May’s homeless shelter. What unfolds over the next 20-or-so hours (It is possible to blitz through the main story in a little over 12 to 13 hours if you choose to single-mindedly focus on the main mission, sacrificing side missions and other quests; but where’s the fun in that?) is a roller-coaster journey that brings various elements from Peter’s life onto a collision course and contains enough comedy, drama, heart-wrenching emotion and white knuckle action to put most superhero films to shame.
Also, being as it’s a Spider-Man game, you won’t see nudity or sexual activity, gore and excessive bloodshed, or coarse language. In other words, it’s fun for all the family.
Controls and Gameplay
The PS4’s DualShock4 controller is made for straightforward, easy-to-learn controls and this game benefits richly from it. Onscreen prompts are also helpful in case you forget which button does what,
There are two dynamics you must grasp if you are to get the most out of Marvel’s Spider-Man: The first among these is your traversal across the city. This is an exercise based on rhythm, flow and coordination. Button-bashing will not help you and neither will ignoring the way to get more height and more speed in your jump. With the right skill upgrades and an understanding of the technique, you’ll be zipping across the city, gracefully and effectively, before long.
The second dynamic to master is the art of fighting. Once again, button-bashing will not do. Unlike the Arkham series of Batman games, the counter button will not blindly help you either. Staying rooted to the ground will likely see you killed. So what to do? Working out the best combination of aerial manoeuvres, Area of Effect attacks and crowd-control will not only see you through the hairiest of battles, but is also one of the most fascinating parts of the gameplay mechanics. The limited RPG mechanics (skill tree, levelling up, constructing gadgets) add a fun layer of strategy to proceedings and go some way in customising the experience.
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Stealth, when not playing as Spider-Man (no more, else it’ll be spoiling things), is undercooked and can get a little tedious at times. Sticking to the realm of the tedious, while most of the side quests – including research stations, enemy bases, landmark hunts and Black Cat missions – are reasonably fun to play, you’ll find running around looking for backpacks, enabling phone towers and worst, chasing around infernal pigeons to be extremely tedious. They come recommended only for the compulsive completionists. Elsewhere, a sprinkling of puzzle minigames lend themselves to a nice change in tone in gameplay and while not too difficult, are an interesting change in pace, regardless.
The biggest problem with Marvel’s Spider-Man is the boss battles. Sure, they’re cinematic, beautifully presented and carry enough gravitas from a story perspective, the actual fights seem limited and rather uninspiring. They tend to follow a set formula and that makes for a bit of an anticlimactic end to a particular chapter or storyline.
That this is the best Spider-Man game ever made goes without saying. The web-slinging and traversal alone across the open world will keep players occupied long after the final credits have rolled. A fantastic story backed up with solid gameplay – disappointing boss battles and annoying pigeons notwithstanding – will keep long-time Spidey fans and newbies alike hooked until the very end. And with a DLC expected to drop within a fortnight, there’s no reason not to go out and grab Marvel’s Spider-Man.